The high number of needy students seeking assistance from well-wishers to pay their secondary schools fees has cast a dark cloud over the much-hyped free day secondary school that the Jubilee administration promised Kenyans.
For the past one week, the media has been awash with appeals from hundreds of needy students who fear they might not report to their respective schools by Friday for lack of fees.
And to respond to their requests, well-wishers have come forward in droves, promising to help the students secure admissions to schools where they have been invited
This week, a girl who scored 373 marks in the 2017 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations at Kalimakoi Primary School in Makueni County had to be counselled at Makindu Sub-County Hospital after she contemplated committing suicide in protest over her parent’s inability to enrol her in a secondary school.
The 14-year-old topped in the school and region and had been invited to join Mama Ngina Girls High School in Mombasa.
On Tuesday, acting Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i insisted that education in day secondary schools was free. He advised public day secondary schools not to charge any levies on learners for whatever reason.
Dr Matiang’i said the government was now paying tuition and its related activities for all students and no school should unilaterally impose any levy on day scholars. Parents should meet and agree on how their children would get lunch while at the school, he advised.
Dr Matiang’i said this when he toured Jamhuri High School, Ngara Girls High school and Kenya High School in Nairobi County to monitor the process of admission of Form Ones into secondary schools.
But even as it puts on a brave face that there is free day secondary education, the government is at the same time, asking students from needy families to seek financial assistance from alternative government and private interventions.
The financial support can come from the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NGCDF), county government bursary funds, Equity Bank Foundation, Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, Kenya Commercial Bank Foundation and Cooperative Bank, among other charities, it says.
“With assistance from all these interventions, the ministry wishes to advise all Form One students to be ready to report to the schools they have been selected, to join,” said Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang’ on Sunday.
But despite thousands of students applying for these scholarships, only a handful get opportunities.
This year alone, there were 1,000 beneficiaries of the Equity Bank’s Wings to Fly initiative, bringing the total number to 19,005 since its inception but those who were left out were more.
In the Supplementary Budget passed in October 2017, the government allocated Sh5 billion as conditional grants to cater for secondary schools’ infrastructure development programme to be administered through the NGCDF. The amount was for construction of new classrooms and bursaries.
According to the new fees guidelines, for national boarding schools, parents are required to pay Sh53, 554 as the government chips in with Sh22,244, which amount to Sh75,798 per student a year. Extra county boarding schools charge Sh40,535 as the government pays Sh22,244, adding up to Sh62,779 per student a year.
Day scholars are only required to buy uniforms and lunch.
However, it is not a free walk in schools as the government wants Kenyans to believe. For instance, a school in Nairobi has asked parents for an extra Sh19, 000 for provisions given in schools.
Another day school in Busia County is asking parents for Sh10,000 for lunch and Sh500 as caution money. In Term One, the students are required to pay Sh6,500, Sh3,000 for second term and Sh1,000 for third term.
According to a circular by Dr Kipsang’ last year, parents are required to fund infrastructure projects in schools upon approval by county education boards. The charges must be determined by boards of management and parents associations but subject to approval by the government.
The government is also providing core textbooks to students.
However, some principals argue that students taking subjects such as history and government and design, among others, will still need those books.
“If you do not want extra charges, who will buy extra books for students?” asked a principal, insisting that the idea was good but there was need to agree on what free education entails.
National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo, however, said the government should not hesitate to take action against school heads who ignore the directives.
“Most school heads have been doing business with parents. Even with new Form Ones reporting, some schools are asking for academic improvement funds and money for foreign trips for top national schools and this must stop,” said Mr Maiyo.
Kenya Secondary School Heads Association chairman Kahi Indimuli said with 100 per cent transition, parents must be ready to pay more to sustain their children in school.
“Schools have major projects that need to be concluded on time. They will need classrooms, toilets and desks, among other things,” Mr Indimuli said, adding that county education boards should move around schools for feasibility studies.